Attending book readings can fulfill a whole lotta New Year’s resolutions: Spending less on outings (they’re usually free! With gratis wine to boot!). Expanding your mind instead of bar-ing it up with pals every night (though admittedly, readings do often take place at and/or end in bars). Meeting cool folk who are also interested in thrifty entertainment, literary mind-expansion and whisky.
However, it can be difficult to know which to attend, especially when you live in a city like New York that offers an overwhelming amount. Besides your fave authors, who should you go see? Based on my experience Book Stalking this past year, I’d like to present a list of five types of readings that you should consider checking out. I offer examples, but do tailor to your own city and interests.
Reading Fixtures in Your Town: It’s always surprising and a little awkward to attend readings of well-known but geographically distant authors that are somewhat… empty. That’s why the most fun readings I’ve experienced are those of well-liked local authors. There’s always a big crowd, you can tell the author is having a good time, and it’s a great opportunity to meet others in your city’s lit world if you feel so inclined. Some of the best local readings I’ve hit up were for Colson Whitehead (incidentally, my first reading for the blog), Emma Straub (whose parents bonded with me over our shared Wisco roots), and Gary Shteyngart (who continually urged the BookCourt crowd to get toasted).
People Writing about your Fave Authors: Sometimes it’s impossible to see a favorite writer read, either because they’re notoriously reclusive and/or deceased. Which is why it’s so fascinating to attend readings where you learn about the author from the close perspective of another — say, their translator or biographer. Natasha Wimmer shed some fascinating light on the late great Roberto Bolaño, and more recently Charles J. Shields spoke honestly and movingly about his biography subject Kurt Vonnegut. Carmela Ciuraru also shared tales from her nonfiction book Nom de Plume about famous no-longer-living pseudonymous authors (who, she jokingly noted, couldn’t “call and complain”).
Up and Comers: This is the equivalent of seeing the pre-famous White Stripes blowing everyone away in a tiny dive bar in Milwaukee (which for some unknown reason early ’00s Julia decided to skip).There are tons of buzzy debut novelists, and if you catch them now you’ll be able to brag about seeing that Pulitzer-prize winning author way back in the day. Some of the best I saw last year include Justin Torres, Caryn Rose, and Teju Cole.
People Who Write Stuff you’re not necessarily Into: Sad to say it, but I’m just not a huge fan of poetry. However, the few times I’ve gone to a poetry reading, such as to hear Nick Flynn read from his newest collection, I always leave with a new appreciation for the craft and bewilderment as to why I’ve been blowing it off.
Writers at Reading Series: You may be able to count on reliably awesome author appearances at the big box stores (at this point, Barnes and Noble). But it can be notoriously difficult to connect with the author during your 5-10 seconds of face time as they distractedly sign your book. Indie bookstores offer a more relaxed setting, but the most chill literary atmosphere I’ve experienced has been at reading series, which often involve alcohol and hanging out afterward. Some in New York that I’d recommend are: Largehearted Lit, Pete’s Candy Store Reading Series, Mixer Music and Reading Series, and Freerange Fiction.